By Steve Silverman
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The Canadians weren't quite ready to yield control of their sport just yet.
If you take an honest look at Canada's 1-0 victory over the United States in the Olympic hockey tournament semifinal, the difference seemed to be a lot more than one goal.
The United States had one excellent chance to score when Phil Kessel broke in on Carey Price down right wing early in the first period. Kessel had a good look and took a hard shot, but Price gobbled it up with little trouble.
From that point forward, the Canadians smothered the Americans at nearly every turn. They knew the United States had been a high-scoring team in their previous four games, scoring 20 goals to lead all teams.
The Canadians were struggling to score. Most of their goals were coming from their defensemen, and not their high-scoring forwards. They had sweated out a 2-1 victory over Latvia prior to playing the United States, and it appeared the balance of power had moved in the United States' direction.
That's what I said two days ago, and I am not about to change that opinion just because the United States lost. Canada clearly outplayed the United States on Friday, but it is not the more talented team. What spurred on the Canadians' superb performances was a layered defense that head coach Mike Babcock and assistant Claude Julien put together, along with some remarkable determination.
The Canadian players saw all the previous scores and they knew the Americans were their equals on the ice. But they did not want their rivals to gain control of their game just yet. There's a certain pride that Canadian hockey fans have about their sport, and their players seem to have that same kind of chip on their collective shoulders.
If Kessel had managed to score on that first opportunity, perhaps the game would have taken on a different tone. Perhaps the Canadians would have been a bit more desperate and that would have led to mistakes and scoring opportunities.
The Canadians deserve credit for playing with a greater sense of determination and finish than the Americans. The first goal often matters a great deal in hockey. In this case, it couldn't have mattered more because it was the only goal.
And it was an absolute beauty by Jamie Benn. He won a puck battle on the side boards and made a sweet pass to Jay Bouwmeester at the point. Bouwmeester, who is hardly an All-Star, made a fine shot-pass in Benn's direction. The Dallas Stars' forward then made about as artful and skillful a deflection as possible, and that was enough to send the puck past U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick.
If it wasn't for Quick, the Canadians would have scored more goals. The final margin could easily have grown to four if Quick hadn't been so sharp.
Price got the shutout and played well, but he was not really extended to make miraculous saves. The Canadian defense forced the Americans into a lot of one-and-done possessions. The cycle game? It was eliminated. Quick passes in the offensive zone? They did not exist. Possession time? Canada was not having any of it.
The Americans had an opportunity to claim hockey dominance and leadership in this game. The talent level was there, but the inner confidence and commitment was missing. It was as if the Americans were the most ardent believers that Canada's version of the game is superior to all others.
Olympic hockey is not the same as an NHL playoff series. You don't get seven games to prove yourself.
Instead, it's one and done. Canada understood that and came with its best. The United States never joined the battle in an earnest fashion.
It cost the Americans badly, and they have to wait another four years to get another opportunity.
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